Work on a new Constitution has only recently started, well over a year later than envisioned in the political blueprint that was drawn up as the civil war ended in October 2011, Dartmouth College’s Dirk Vandewalle and researcher Nicholas Jahr write for The New York Times:
This is a shame because, despite severe security issues and other debilitating weaknesses, Libya these days has one unexpected strength: Most of its people agree on major issues that are often hopelessly divisive, like minority rights, Islam and federalism.
Polling by the University of Benghazi early last year suggested that a solid 55 percent of the population favored granting some form of recognition to languages other than Arabic, including the long-silenced ones spoken by the Amazigh and the Tebu, two minority groups. According to a study by the National Democratic Institute published last November, a majority of Libyans supported reserving seats for women and ethnic minorities in the constitutional assembly (and some seats were, in fact, set aside for those groups).
Other reports last year by the National Democratic Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy] and the University of Benghazi indicated that an overwhelming majority of Libyans believed Shariah, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran, should be enshrined in the new Constitution as a source of legislation (though not the only one). And while many Libyans, particularly in the east, support some degree of decentralization, they favor a centralized state over full-on federalism or any far-reaching devolution of power to the provinces.
“Libya faces fiendishly difficult problems, but there is at least one tangible issue that could be fixed fairly easily,” they contend. “Reforming current electoral rules would close the gap between the people and their leaders, and make good on an enviable asset that is rare in such fragile countries: a popular consensus on major issues that transcends cleavages over smaller ones.”
Dirk Vandewalle is an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College. Nicholas Jahr is a freelance researcher and reporter.